Abel Cruz

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Fellow since 2019
This description of Abel Cruz's work was prepared when Abel Cruz was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2019.


Abel is solving the drastic water-shortage problem in the Andean region, bringing new solutions capturing water from fog, and through it – enabling and sparking farming in extreme drought areas. His approach eradicates extreme poverty and brings rural development. Moreover, he is bringing healthy and clean water also to urban areas lacking water. Abel is using his water solution approach to change people’s mindsets, educating communities how to take responsibility in their own hands.

The New Idea

In order to eradicate poverty in rural and marginal urban communities with little or no access to potable water and high rates of malnutrition and unemployment, Abel in an ingenious, cheap, self-sustainable and safe way provides not only water for human and animal consumption but goes much further; he installs storage and irrigation systems and transforms desert areas into farming areas; he accompanies them through training and leads them to the development of crops for self-consumption in such a way that improves nutrition and generates family savings on the one hand, and on the other hand, he studies the soil and develops socio-productive projects, for the development of organic agriculture and the raising of small animals, which generates self-employment, entrepreneurship, social fabric and development throughout the community.

To counteract the insufficient public service of access to water, Abel designed an integral system of fog water collection, desalination and groundwater collection, unique for its low costs and easy maintenance; this is done through a netting system, technology that he takes from ancestral cultures generating value, a result of his childhood experience where the need to walk large extensions in search for water led him to innovate by developing water canals to bring water to their home from a nearby river .

At first the communities have been skeptical; however, Abel manages a change of mentality and achieves acceptance and openness; he also empowers the leaders whom he trains with the necessary knowledge for the maintenance of the netting system. Abel promotes the Movement of Peruvians Without Water and manages to have the fog be recognized by the Government as a water source; this leads him to being declared by the Presidency of Peru in 2018 as a prominent figure of the bicentennial for his remarkable action of service to the country.

The Problem

In Peru, 3.8MM Peruvians suffer from lack of access to drinking water and cannot cover their basic consumption needs, nor have it available for agricultural use or for raising animals. They also do not have drinking water or drainage throughout the 24 hours of the day and approximately one million people live in deplorable conditions, exposed to diseases and the abuse of having to pay 10 times more than the service provided by SEDAPAL. Not only that, the water they access is contaminated, resulting into a health risk for children and adults.

The population that buys water through cisterns pay an extra cost between 5 to 15 times more than those that have a home connection. These areas are forgotten by the State and given their complicated geography and distance from public services, the projects multiply the economic resources they need by making it more expensive to implement; however, the poor people usually have no other alternative to build their home. That is why they choose to emigrate in search for better opportunities for their family.

Among the conditions experienced by the rural population is a poor diet. Chronic malnutrition affects more than 35% of the children and anemia rate exceeds 30% in senior citizens. People lack opportunities for development in the area, so they prefer not to inhabit the area due to the lack of water, energy and internet resources. They will live in the city in the hopes of working, having a family and having their children study. Due to the great need of an economic income to subsist with the family, they look for many part-time activities where they are over-exploited and underemployed.

The Strategy

As a student, Abel moves from Cusco to Lima and he must live in a human settlement where water was bought from cistern trucks; he gets involved with the community. In 2004 he was appointed community leader of the commission to take water and drainage to that area of 120 families who had been without water for 4 years; he contacted the Government to inquire what he could do to obtain water; there he manages to measure the terrible problem with other leaders, where there were communities of 150 thousand families with 35 years without water. Abel realized that there were too many families without water. The officials were inefficient. Abel organized and led an Assembly with all the Leaders of Lima. 180 Leaders marched to insert the problem on the public agenda, however the problem remained.

Abel had fenced a plot of 160 meters with a fence and one day when he got home from work, he noticed that fence net is full of water and he remembered what he had learned in his childhood about collecting water. He spoke with other leaders to place fog-traps, 6 meters wide and 4 high, 6 vertical nets could contain a thousand liters. At this time, Abel financed the system from his own pocket, each net had a cost of US$100. However, the system was not completely efficient, and it was in 2005 when he starts to try new materials and places, and thus creates a methodology of the monitoring of the geographical area and wind direction, once he perfects the technique with technical support from international universities such as MIT.

As a result of his innovation in 2010, Abel obtains the support of USAID for the placement of the first 20 fog-catchers in a community of 150,000 inhabitants, which pushes him to formalize his Peruvians Foundation Without Water http://www.lossinagua.org/ and obtains more visibility and recognition from different agencies. At the same time, Abel manages to bring the fog-catchers technology (raschel nets) to its maximum level and this allows him in 2012 to go from just providing water for human consumption to improving his methodology of intervention and awareness of the community. Abel incorporates the community, who provide the labor for the assembly and implementation of the fog-catchers; the community is the one that installs the system, and are the main responsible for its maintenance, in some cases the community contributes with the materials, in other cases it is Abel through donations that provides them.

The particular conditions of each community leads Abel to develop a specific strategy in each community; this leads him to create the second phase of his methodology where he analyzes the land, even in desert areas and then advises the communities in the type of products they can develop. Abel tells us of the case of a community leader who was taught to install the 1st system and currently has 5 fog-catchers that has allowed him to have 1,000 chickens, whose eggs he sells to the market generating his own income; others are selling aloe or farming in areas that were once desert.

Currently, in 2019 Abel has installed 2,000 fog-catchers in 14 regions of the country benefiting more than 30,000 people, and where more than 1,000 families are benefited with rural enterprises. Thanks to his work, the Peruvian State has recognized the water from fog as a valid system for rural areas where there is a maximum of 2,000 inhabitants through Ministerial Resolution No. 192-2018/HOUSING: "Technical Design Standard: Technological Options for Sanitation Systems in the Rural Environment ". Abel offers clean water. He also has ecological chlorine, which is recognized by the government: General Direction of Healthy Environment (DIGESA); now it is in the process of patenting on behalf of our NGO.

The Peruvian State is very interested in his projects. He has signed agreements with private companies and receives income for counselling different universities. Abel has agreements with local and regional governments. The governments of Tacna and Moquegua finance some expansions. The Government puts money, the community the labor and Abel the technical knowledge; he is also in talks with the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion of his country and is developing synergies with companies such as Coca-Cola, Movistar, among others.

Abel's short-term goal (by 2020) is to replicate the water catchment model in northern Peru and triple the projects already implemented in the middle and south of the country. As a replication strategy in the Region, in the short term, this year he is undertaking other studies in the south of Colombia to install 50 fog-catchers and in another assisted community in Mexico 50 fog-catchers. In Bolivia, 3 students from La Paz have travelled to install another 50 fog-catchers. He also receives students from different universities around the world. Among his allies is the UNDP Green Fund. In 2018 Abel won the GOOGLE prize and thanks to this prize, he developed 53 acres of land and equipped it with water, solar panels and biodigesters, and it has allowed him to incorporate a device that measures fog density. In addition, he is in agreements for an IDB fund and with the FAO to address the food health issue.

By 2024, he plans to influence public policies for the gathering of water from unconventional systems in the rural and peri-urban sectors; generate a model of self-sustaining water catchment of uninterrupted supply for agriculture, family and breeding of small animals. However, if he does not have the coverage of the rural electrification program or Internet networks, he intends to have different sources of energy and then automate the agricultural production through intelligent sensors to improve irrigation efficiency and create a smart agricultural system; likewise, for the breeding of animals, the process of feeding the hatcheries will be automated. Abel, as part of his vision, plans to serve 25% of the country's population due to the fog on the coast and part of the Peruvian highlands.

The Person

Abel was born in an old millennial town in Cusco below Machu Pichu; he feels proud because in his blood runs INCA blood, in his village there was no water around the house; at the age of 10 he was already concerned about access to water. His parents were community leaders and were his inspiration in working with the people and in their vocation to service. He was the third of four brothers who had to provide resources for the home and Abel was in charge of carrying the water; he had to walk 300 meters to get it; he had to create a system to collect water from a river using gutters to funnel it home. He also cleaned the water of particles and dust using a rattan plant that has spine/thorn tips and cleans the water naturally. Everything was solved when it rained from September to April, where collected the water from the canals and the thresholds using banana leaves.

Being very young he moved from Cusco to Lima to go to college, where his problem of access to water persisted because in the settlement the supply was through cisterns. At that time he lived with many restrictions and worked in a legal office that kept him out of the house all day, which prevented him from buying it during the hours the trucks passed. Today, after having developed his system of fog-catcher, Abel has the recognition of his country and the world; he dreams of solving poverty in vulnerable communities and continues to explore new systems for capturing water from the atmosphere, from rain, and connecting them. with the fog-catchers; he is also interested in contributing to Climate Change issues because his methodology is contributing to the creation of microclimates, therefore the regeneration of the environment.